MM Collection
Checking in from the Condor's Nest on Illimani, Bolivia. MM Collection
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March 18, 2013

Spectacular Conditions in El Cocuy Range - Colombia

What a great first season in Colombia! As we look ahead towards the next Ecuador and Bolivia Season, our thoughts go back to the beginning of the year and our second Colombia expedition of our first season in the country! So many successful summits in the beautiful El Cocuy mountain range.

Stunning summit ridge of Ritacuba Blanco

MM Guide Juan Carlos writes about the trip:

(All photos by Elaine Teh)

The first MM Colombia team in 2013 was composed by 3 members who venture into this new destination: John, Elaine and Lana (Svetlana) arrived in Bogotá on January 8th and, after a relaxing city tour, we all travelled to the mountain range of El Cocuy.

The team summited successfully two acclimatization peaks: Monserrate and Pico del Aguila. On both summits the weather was very nice, not too warm not too cold and almost no wind! On Monserrate we could have a first look to some of the high peaks, as most of the range was clear. This is a great summit to become acquainted with the place and to get a better idea of where and how far away the mountains are.

The El Cocuy Range with Toti and Pan de Azucar

Pico del Aguila is a great place, as the views are very different from Monserrte. From the summit, it is possible to see the southern valleys and some of the closer peaks, where the next day’s activities will take place. The other great experience of this day is the food at Hacienda La Esperanza and the place in itself. A typical Hacienda from the area, still actively raising sheep and goats, and harvesting potatoes and grain.

After accomplishing the first acclimatization part, the group moved up to the beautiful lake of Laguna Grande de la Sierra and established base camp at the shores of the lake, which is surrounded by 5 major summits.

Even though the ascent to El Concavo summit was scheduled for the next morning, some members of the group preferred to have a whole day to recover before attempting the summit. Anyway, as we have a very flexible program, Elaine, who felt ready for some challenge, went with me to Toti (one of the major summits in area) and summited the mountain in only 4 hours from campsite. The conditions on the glacier where good, but some patches of ice had to be sorted out on the Toti’s summit ridge. The weather was great and the lake of La Plaza and all neighboring mountains where cloud clear. 

Elaine and Juan Carlos on the summit of Toti

Next morning the whole group had an early start, in order to have the best conditions for the main goal in this area: El Concavo peak. The chosen route was the direct one, which follows most of the glacier. Even though the route is steeper than the normal route, it offers a much better experience due to the beautiful landscapes and a more frank terrain as there much less rocky moraine.

After a 2 hour approach to the glacier from campsite, we geared up and headed for the main ridge on the glacier. The glacier was a lot more crevassed than a few weeks before with the first MM group, but still in good conditions. We had to crossed several ice bridges and walk around many crevasses until the high plateau. As we reached the end of the crevassed area, John made a “donation” to the Concavo’s glacier, as his ice axe slipped from his wrist and plunged into one of the many crevasses! Fortunately, we were already above all the delicate passages, so his poles worked just fine for the rest of the climb!

As the group reached the Concavo’s final ridge, sun appeared just behind the top, illuminating the amazing valleys and gorges below us. The group moved slowly but constantly as they walked the last steps to the summit. The views were just perfect, clear skies to both sides of the range and into the low valleys of the Aruaca region.

The whole team on the summit of Concavo

We descended by the normal route and reached the campsite about 3 hours later, where our cook Rafael, was waiting with some fresh juice and a well deserve lunch.

After accomplishing our goal on the Southern area, we moved to the Northern part of the range: the Ritacuba Valley. We hiked down to La Hacienda La Esperanza and there we meet Alfredo, our driver, who took us to the Kanwara huts. A well-deserved rest at this idyllic place with views towards many of the mountains is a great reward!

Next day, by midday we hiked almost 600 meters up to Ritacuba Blanco’s high camp and prepared for next morning climb. 

We woke up early and started with a bit of wind at around 2.30 AM. Unfortunately after a few minutes the wind brought mist/clouds and the conditions began to deteriorate. Therefore, we turned back to wait a while for better conditions before getting into the glacier. At about 4.30 AM, the conditions had improved and I decided to move on. John and Svetlana decided to stay warm in their sleeping bags. Elaine wanted to give it a shot and we started the climb just before 5.00 AM. The weather improved, as we ascended, and by the time we reached the glacier the sky was quite clear and the wind had decreased considerably. 

Ascending Ritacuba Blanco

The last 70 meters up to the summit of Ritacuba Blanco were a bit steep and icy, due to the long dry period, but a nice section to conclude the climb. The reward was a summit in beautiful clear weather.

We joined with the rest of the group on the way down to Kanwara huts and after the long descent returned to the town of El Cocuy for a good rest and shower.

Next morning we took our bus for the 12 hours return trip to Bogotá and after that enjoyed a nice celebratory dinner with a wide menu to choose from! Concluding in this way, another successful trip in the Colombian mountains!

~ MM Guide Juan Carlos Gonzalez Camacho

Juan Carlos and Elaine on the summit of Ritacuba Blanco

 

Thanks also to Elaine Teh for a great report of her experience: 

"The climbing trip to Colombian Andes was a truly unique experience. Although it shares similar characteristics to other South American Andes, it also has a distinct flavor. Rather than the usual multi-coloured and flared skirts ubiquitous in the Andes, typical Colombian sombreros and ponchos are the norm. The hacienda La Esperanza, was amazing. Rustic and intimate, and the owners are the most welcoming and accommodating people!

"Our campsite in Laguna de la Sierra was on beautiful sandy beach, right by the lake, surrounded by the Sierra Nevada. It was perfect to sit and contemplate the amazing landscape; also perfect for a good soak for the sore feet after the climbs! We were very blessed with perfect climbing weather. Not too windy or too cold. The glacier was just blissful to traverse. Toti was a fun mixture of ice and rock scramble to its rocky summit. Concavo has a unique summit; at a certain angle, it looked like a Puma head! And, finally, Ritacubo Blanco has an enjoyable long glacier traverse, before a very short challenge of short, steep front-pointing to the mouth of a massive crevasse. Final careful crossing of a firm snow bridge leads to its beautiful summit. 

"Juan Carlos and his team  looked after us all very well. Juan Carlos, being a true local, showed us the magic of his homeland. He and Rafa, our ever so friendly and smiley cook, fed us more than sufficiently. No one had any stomach upset – which is a real feat!"

~ Elaine Teh